The court ruling means that Apple's App Store ban against Epic Games' Fortnite can remain in effect but the Unreal Engine development tools cannot be blocked.
You win some, and you lose some. That describes the latest court decision in the ongoing battle between Epic Games and Apple.
On Monday, a California district court judge ruled on Epic's motion for a temporary restraining order against Apple following the iPhone maker's decision to ban Epic's Fortnite game from its App Store. Apple jettisoned the app after Epic tried to offer users a direct payment option to purchase V-Bucks for Fortnite in-app purchases. Such an option cuts out Apple as the App Store host and middleman, for which it gets as much as a 30% slice of the revenue.
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In her decision, US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled against Epic's request for a preliminary injunction that would have forced Apple to return Fortnite to the App Store. Responding to Epic's assertion that the ban is creating "irreparable harm" to the company, Judge Gonzalez Rogers said that "self-inflicted wounds are not irreparable injury." In short, Epic created a predicament of its own making by circumventing Apple's developer rules and that any injury it suffers is of its own choosing.
Referring to the direct payment system that Epic set up for Fortnite V-Bucks, the judge said that the company has admitted that it has the technology to fix the problem by deactivating this method.
"[T]he sensible way to proceed is for [Epic to comply with the agreements and guidelines] and continue to operate while it builds a record," ruled the judge. "That Epic Games would prefer not to litigate in that context does not mean that 'irreparable harm' exists."
On the plus side for Epic and for game developers, Judge Gonzalez Rogers also ruled against Apple's threatened actions that would affect Epic's Unreal Engine. Last week, Apple had vowed to suspend Epic's developer account for the game development platform, which would have cut off support for a technology used by many game developers.
In her ruling on the Unreal Engine matter, the judge found that a ban could cause significant damage to both the platform itself and to the gaming industry in general, including developers and gamers. While Epic Games and Apple can litigate against each other, their dispute shouldn't affect bystanders, according to the ruling.
"Apple does not persuade that it will be harmed based on any restraint on removing the developer tools," Judge Gonzalez Rogers said. "The parties' dispute is easily cabined on the antitrust allegations with respect to the App Store. It need not go farther. Apple has chosen to act severely, and by doing so, has impacted non-parties, and a third-party developer ecosystem. In this regard, the equities do weigh against Apple."
The judge's ruling is a temporary decision put in place for now as the two parties prepare to file further motions and responses to motions over Epic's requested injunctions. Following these expected actions throughout most of September, a full hearing on the preliminary injunction is set for Sept. 28.
"We thank the court for recognizing that Epic's problem is entirely self-inflicted and is in their power to resolve," Apple said in a statement shared with TechRepublic.
"Our very first priority is making sure App Store users have a great experience in a safe and trusted environment, including iPhone users who play Fortnite and who are looking forward to the game's next season," the statement continued. "We agree with Judge Gonzalez Rogers that 'the sensible way to proceed' is for Epic to comply with the App Store guidelines and continue to operate while the case proceeds. If Epic takes the steps the judge has recommended, we will gladly welcome Fortnite back onto iOS. We look forward to making our case to the court in September."
Epic didn't immediately respond to TechRepublic's request for comment.
"I think the judge did exactly the right thing under the circumstances," Lewis Ward, IDC research director of gaming, eSports and VR/AR, told TechRepublic.
"Fortnite violated the terms and conditions of the iOS App Store and Google Play, not Unreal Engine or some other app or service rendered by Epic and its subsidiaries," Ward said. "For now, that's the right call in my view because rendering Unreal Engine useless on Apple's hardware platforms is a massively disproportionate response to the App Store policy violations in which Fortnite alone engaged. This fight is just warming up though. By bringing up Sherman antitrust and other alleged state competition violations against Apple, Epic fired a shot across Apple's bow and Apple responded with a nuclear threat that has been indefinitely put on hold."
This article has been updated with additional comment.
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